Thursday, January 25, 2007

Full Time Parents

The other day, Allan informed me that gum had been outlawed in their house.

I outlawed it a long time ago, when I found gum stuck to the wooden floor, an inch away from my carpet.

Still, the boys would come home with gum from Walter and Allan’s house, often chomping on it as they walked into the house.

In the trash, I would demand.

Awwww. Walter and Allan let us… they would whine.

And that’s the beauty of going to their house, I would say as I pointed to the trash bin and watched as each piece was spit out.

One of the hardest things I ever had to do was to let go of control when the kids were with Walter and Allan. To trust their judgment. And when I didn’t trust their judgment, understand no one would be maimed, killed or seriously harmed by swigging down 2 liters of Mountain Dew in a two-hour period of time. Or by eating massive quantities of fruit roll ups. If five were consumed, then five would come out the other end, probably intact.

Sure, there would be puking, but not on my rugs.

They get to ride bikes around the neighborhood- not my safe, suburban neighborhood but a city neighborhood. And not just their street but a full circle block. Ben walks into the center by himself, goes to Dunkin Donuts and walks back. Neither are things I would have let my kids do but watching them do it has been a powerful lesson to me.

When I let go? The kids win.

When Walter first came to pick up Ben and take him out, he had to overcome the fact that Ben was a Momma’s boy. The first three months of Ben’s life? I didn’t even trust Jeanine with him. So he had to find a way to get Ben to be willing to leave the house without me- and for me to be willing for Ben to leave the house without me, too.

Dunkin Donuts was the answer. Less than a quarter mile away, they could walk there. And have donuts. And chocolate milk. And more donuts.

Oh, they just need calories, Walter would say when returning my completely buzzed on sugar child.

Uh huh, I would nod, knowing there would be no sleep for hours until the sugar ran dry. I knew Walter was wrong about the calories but I knew he was right about the treat being a strong enough incentive to get Ben to go out with him, alone.

As the years have progressed, I watched Zachary come back from Dunkin Donuts and the expanded addition of a visit to the park with a diaper so full it sagged to his knees-

Oh, does that need to be changed? Walter would feign surprise.

It must have left a streak on the slide, I thought but only shook my head, commenting how I thought there was a fresh diaper in the bag.

It was Walter’s prerogative. He was a big brother in those days. Coming to spend time with the kids, he wanted to be fun and candy and donuts and laughter. It was perfect.

Fast-forward 8 years… there is no gum at Walter and Allan’s house. Where once there was a towel put over the Stickley coffee table in the living room for TV dinners in front of the TV? The boys are required to set the table, clean up and help cook – a routine started there that has been adopted here. Of course, I never let the kids eat in front of the TV.

Okay, except during the Patriots or Red Sox games.

For a long time, I was the police. (Even Jeanine is considered the ‘nice mom’ by the kids. You make us do stuff, they complain.) Walter and Allan were fun, fun and more fun. It served a purpose- I knew it then and I know it now. The kids grew comfortable and safe with them. I do the same thing with my nieces and the other kids in my life I adore. I don’t have to be the parent. I am fun.

But Walter and Allan are parents now. No more fun. Not only are rules to be followed, we talk extensively about what examples are important to show the kids. Do they get allowance and for what? How do we teach appreciation for what they have, a healthy work ethic and still show them the world? It's a four way conversation.

Today at Walter and Allan's house? Clothes have to be put away in separate containers with their names- we try to keep enough clothes for the kids at their house so nothing goes back and forth in a suitcase. I have always felt that it makes it their home to have pj’s, toothbrushes and clothes at the ready.

No backtalk, you help take the trash to the curb, and while bedtime is still later than here? Bedtime is bedtime. Leave your toys out? Gone. I threaten to throw them away? Allan does throw them away. Video games are allowed, to an extent, and then it’s shut down, everyone out, go play.

The kids have bikes over there, baseball gloves and a basketball hoop. Walter has been hard at work to redo their basement into a game room/kids place.

For me? I knew the day we asked Walter to be involved, to take the role as Big Brother, we would be faced with sharing the kids. Often. As it is, the boys go at least one weekend night for a sleepover. Today when I drove away from the Pediatrician, finding Jake had an ear infection, I called Jeanine. Then Walter. Then Allan. Only after I left a message for Allan did I realize how far we’ve come.

They don’t allow gum in the house. When I heard this I giggled. I knew you’d figure that out, I said.

Well, there was a piece wedged into the carpet, Walter said.

I banned it years ago and last week I found the cat playing with an old, chewed piece in Zach and Jake’s room, I responded.

If they would only be more careful, he said.

And I smiled. Because we are all parents now. Full time. Jeanine and I are lucky to live in their school district and get to claim them for the weekdays. While I no longer have to worry about late bedtimes, too many sweets or saggy diapers, there has been a price.

I had to give up control. I had to give up ownership.

The result?

My boys have two moms, two dads and no divorce. (At least not yet.)

We all win.


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